I’ve got to admit, yesterday I was feeling pretty confident about the Rangers chances in their Eastern Conference semifinals series against the Penguins.
I felt they could match the Penguins speed on offense, while displaying a far superior defense and goaltending. Also, unlike last year against the Bruins, the Rangers don’t seem intimidated by the Penguins. But then something happened. While researching for this blog post, I noticed that all the so-called experts feel the same way I do.
ESPN, TSN, Hockey News and all the beat writers are predicting a Rangers win in this series. That’s never a good thing. Not only are these prognosticators jinxing the Rangers, they’re giving Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma ammunition to motivate his team. It’s going to be real easy for him to use the ‘disrespected card’ with his team for additional inspiration.
But that’s just me and my insanity. Let’s take a look at what the Rangers are going to be dealing with the next two weeks.
Obviously, the guy the Rangers want to contain is Sidney Crosby. He’s usually the difference against every team in the NHL, but it seems like he particularly enjoys picking on the Rangers as in 47 career games against the Blueshirts, he has 21g, 44a. In the Penguins first round series, Crosby looked a little like Rick Nash. A ton of shots on goals, a bunch of assists but had trouble finding the back of the net as he was ragged the entire series by former Ranger Brandon Dubinski and held scoreless in the six games against Columbus. You’d think holding Crosby scoreless in a series would be enough to win, but not when he has his partner in crime Evgeni Malkin to back him up. Malkin had seven points in the six games, including a hat trick in the clinching Game 6.
And apparently Malkin likes ball-tapping Crosby in the off-season…
While the supporting cast of Chris Kunitz, Jussi Jokinen and James Neal got their goals while dispersing of Columbus, one role player who proved to be a difference maker on offense was Brandon Sutter, who finished the series with 3g, 2a. Sutter had just 25 points all season.
On defense, the Penguins struggled mightily against the Blue Jackets. They gave up 18 goals in the six games and it probably would have been more if it weren’t for their goaltender. The biggest culprit on defense was Kris Letang who hasn’t looked the same since returning from the stroke he suffered this season, as he was beat regularly by Columbus forwards and took five minor penalties in the series. Brooks Orpik has always been an intimidating presence on the blueline for the Penguins, but he missed the final two games with an injury and his status for the start of the series is in question.
Two other defensemen to watch are Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen. The two combined for 2g, 14a and a +8 in their series against Columbus.
The wild card of the series is not hard to figure out. Marc Andre Fleury was probably one of the Penguins best players in the first round as he averaged 33 saves during the six games. But his Game 4 gaffe proved he’s still prone to blowing up.
As you’d expect the Penguins power play is deadly. During the regular season, they led the league with a 23.4% success rate. They were a tick lower in the first round as they were ONLY at 20.7%. Niskanen is the big man on the point as he had six power play points (2g, 4a) against the Blue Jackets.
During the regular season, the Penguins had the fifth best penalty kill in the league at 85%, but they struggled mightily against Columbus as it tumbled down to 74.1%.
Similar to last series, if the Rangers can remain discipline, while finally getting the power play in gear, they’re going to give the mighty Penguins a run for their money.
And if for some reason you don’t believe the Rangers can beat Crosby and the Penguins, check these stats out…
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 1, 2014